It might not be Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton, but hundreds of candidates in Will County are running for mayor, city councils, park boards, school boards and more.
You name it, there’s probably a local office for it on the April 4 ballot.
The spirit of democracy is lively in many places, including Bolingbrook, where there is a fierce fight for mayor, and Joliet, where there is a crowded contest for City Council.
All this is expected to get little attention from voters, however.
Voter turnout rates less than 20 percent are the norm for local elections.
“I want to see the turnout as high as it was in the presidential election. I want to see it as high in the April 4 election,” Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots said.
That would mean turnout would have to be nearly five times as high as it was in local elections of 2015, when it was 15.01 percent.
The turnout for the presidential election in November was 74 percent.
Claar vs. Traynere
The candidates for mayor in Bolingbrook might be doing their best to stir the high level of excitement of the presidential campaign.
Mayor Roger Claar and Jacqueline Traynere, a Will County Board member, even had roles to play in the presidential election.
Both were delegates to presidential conventions, except Claar was a Trump supporter and Traynere was a Bernie Sanders delegate. Even a casual observer could imagine they have their differences.
Claar, who has been mayor for 31 years, points at big-name Democrats supporting his opponent, including U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
“We don’t want anyone from Springfield or Washington telling us how to run this town,” he said.
Claar’s own ties to big-name Republicans, especially Trump, have been an issue for the opposition in a village where 67 percent voted for Clinton in the presidential election.
“Everyone knows that he’s Republican,” Traynere said in response to a Claar accusation that she should not be identifying herself as a Democrat in a local election. “ ... He’s had Donald Trump in Bolingbrook.”
A Trump fundraiser hosted by Claar in September at the Bolingbrook Golf Club stirred a protest outside the club and sparked interest in a strong campaign against the mayor.
In Joliet, 15 candidates are running for the City Council’s three at-large positions.
With so many candidates, it’s hard to get recognition, said Nathaniel Romeo, one of the 15.
“It’s extremely difficult with the number of candidates running,” Romeo said. “You try to go out and see as many people as you can, and get your message out.”
He and the other candidates will have a chance to get their message to lots of people in one place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, when neighborhood associations host a forum at the Jacob Henry Mansion Estate, 20 S. Eastern Ave.
Even staging a forum for so many candidates at one time is a challenge.
“We talked through that,” said Quinn Adamowski, president of the Cathedral Area Preservation Association, before he explained the strategy decided upon by the associations organizing the forum.
All candidates received questionnaires on certain “bigger ticket” issues, and their answers will be collected ahead of time and distributed to the audience to read at their leisure.
At the forum, candidates will be asked five or six specific questions related to the neighborhoods. The candidates will be called according to a lottery system designed to give candidates and the questions equal time.
“If we can get through five or six questions, which is probably unlikely, then all the candidates will get to answer all of the questions,” Adamowski said.
All the candidates will get equal time, he said. All the questions will be addressed by at least some of the candidates.
The City Council isn’t the only big race in Joliet.
Eight candidates will be on the ballot for the Joliet Park District, where there will be four board openings.
Park board typically might be an uncontroversial election. But there has been at least one sign vandalism incident related to the election, and it was a sign Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk posted in his yard for one of the candidates.
“They tore up a yard sign and ripped it out of the yard,” O’Dekirk said.
Bolingbrook isn’t the only place with a hotly contested mayoral race.
In Crest Hill, three of the biggest figures in the city’s politics are running for mayor: incumbent Mayor Ray Soliman; his predecessor, Nick Churnovic; and John Vershay, the longest-serving alderman.
Thirteen candidates are running for five openings on the school board for Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, which has been embroiled in controversies since being placed on the state’s financial watch list in 2015.
Voters this week will get a voters’ guide in the mail from the Will County Clerk’s Office, which will show them the candidates in their towns, school boards and park districts. It also will show where they can vote.
Voters can get the same information on the county clerk’s website, thewillcountyclerk.com, by entering their addresses under “Polling Place Lookup.”
Information about early voting, which already has started at the clerk’s office in Joliet, and voting by mail also is available on the clerk’s website.
Voots said she is always hopeful for higher turnouts at local elections.
“I’d like to see those numbers go up,” she said. “You can’t force people to go out and vote. But now voters have more choices. They can vote by mail. They can vote early. Or they can vote on Election Day.”
WAYS TO VOTE
EARLY VOTING: Already has started at the Will County Clerk’s Office, 302 N. Chicago St., Joliet; will start March 20 at 22 locations in the county.
VOTE BY MAIL: Available to any qualified registered voter; printable forms are available on the Will County clerk’s website.
ELECTION DAY: April 4
MORE INFO: Will County Clerk’s Office, at www.thewillcountyclerk.com or 815-740-4615